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Agamemnon | Study Guide


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Agamemnon | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


How does Cassandra's outlook change during the course of Agamemnon according to her visions of the near and distant future?

At first Cassandra is frightened and refuses to speak. Disoriented in space and time, she prays to Apollo and questions her fate. Her language is inarticulate; she speaks in short bursts, gradually working her way up to full sentences. The Chorus can tell "the god's voice still remains" inside her. As they listen and offer commentary, her visions clarify; Cassandra regains her confidence and voice. She speaks with elegance and poetic lines. "I'll teach you no more in cryptic riddles," she says, accepting authority as a teacher. She gets a broader command of time and space as she gains a clearer vision of Clytaemnestra's preparations. When she foresees her own death, she knows it is inevitable. Slowly she becomes at peace with fate. She casts off her prophet's wand, free of the distress of the job which causes "labor pains." The Chorus even admires how willingly she approaches suffering.

How is Cassandra's description of her prophecy in Episode 3, "clear as a fresh wind," similar to Clytaemnestra's feelings after her act of murder in Agamemnon, Exodos?

Both women invoke nature, renewal, and clarity. Aeschylus uses antithesis to combine peaceful images of nature with the grotesqueries of death. Cassandra uses the rising sun, which gives people power to see, as a metaphor. She compares her prophecy to "a wave cresting through the dawn." Before this moment she has been speaking cryptically. Now she will illuminate the Chorus with the truth. Clytaemnestra rejoices as the earth rejoices in spring, with flowers and fertility. She thinks she is bringing forth new life to the House of Atreus by avenging Iphigenia. "This is my triumph," she says. The fertility and hope that Iphigenia's virgin blood represented has finally been avenged.

How is Agamemnon affected by hamartia: his fatal flaw and contribution to his own inescapable, tragic downfall?

Clytaemnestra says of Agamemnon "his suffering matches exactly what he did himself." He deceived his wife to bring Iphigenia to sacrifice, a deed Clytaemnestra would never have sanctioned. She believes justice calls her to deceive him in the same way. Agamemnon's aggression escalates a war that kills many soldiers in Argos, impoverishing the city and allowing Aegisthus to step in as ruler. His pride, and fatal flaw, finally allows him to walk the carpet, even though he knows he is doing something wrong as he takes his first steps. Thus he sins against those to whom he gave his daughter's life to wage a war. By claiming Clytaemnestra talked him into it, he avoids responsibility for his actions. "The man who sins is sinned against," says the Chorus, reflecting on Agamemnon's death.

Which scenes in Agamemnon use the technique of stichomythia, or alternating lines given to alternating characters (verbal sparring), and how does this technique advance the plot?

The scene between Clytaemnestra and Agamemnon in Episode 3, when the two argue about Agamemnon's entrance into the house, shows stychomythia. The scene establishes conflict between them immediately, gives Agamemnon a choice that will reveal his character, and shows Clytaemnestra's cunning and duplicity. Since Agamemnon is not onstage for long, the scene needs to be fast and forceful. In Stasimon 4, after Agamemnon is stabbed, the Chorus members' discussion shows stychomythia as they indicate they have lost their previous control and diplomacy. Since the Chorus is the liaison between characters and audience, the breakdown of the Chorus heightens tension immediately before the climactic act. Their dialogue mentions several possibilities for the future, representing the multiple voices of the people of Argos. Aegisthus and the Chorus engage in stichomythia at the end of the play. The sparring gives a hint of the war to come, establishes the Chorus as a strong unit again, and cements the threat of and to Aegisthus.

What are Clytaemnestra's stated motives for killing Agamemnon and Cassandra, and how do these motives relate to the ideas of familial loyalty and "blood-for-blood"?

Clytaemnestra has three main motives: Vengeance: She thinks the Chorus, and by extension the Greek people, were criminally silent at Agamemnon's sacrifice of Iphigenia. Clytaemnestra is convinced she is the only one in the right. Her love for her daughter, or at least the family unity her daughter represents—"that dear girl I bore in pain"—causes her to exact what she believes is justice. Because of the codes of vengeance, she had no choice but to avenge her daughter and Thyestes's children. The net of fate has finally caught up with Agamemnon, and Clytaemnestra is powerless to stop it. Marital discord: She believes Agamemnon "feigned his love," and she has had time to fall in love with Aegisthus in his absence. Jealousy: Cassandra's youth and subordinate position make her a good "spear prize" for Agamemnon. Clytaemnestra resents the blood spilled during the Trojan War, and she believes both Agamemnon and Cassandra played their parts in the bloodshed. The bit is meant to "stifle any curse which she might cry against her family." This is a reference to the curse Thyestes called down on Clytaemnestra's family long ago, after another act of brutality against his children.

How does Clytaemnestra take responsibility for her murderous deeds in Agamemnon?

She proudly takes responsibility for the physical acts of murdering Agamemnon and Cassandra. But she does not take moral responsibility or claim agency. Clytaemnestra admits immediately after the murder she told lies "to suit my purposes" when she greeted her husband. Even though she committed an evil act, she believes it was for a higher cause. "Surely his own deceit brought ruin on this house?" she says of Agamemnon. She believes the curse worked through her, what Cassandra calls "treacherous Ate, goddess who destroys." Clytaemnestra believes when she threw the nets of fate over her husband, she let destiny work. The spirit of revenge is ancient, older than she is. She disassociates her murdering hand as "the work of this right hand" and her physical form as possessed: "this corpse's wife."

Whose fortunes change during the peripeteia (reversal) in Agamemnon, and how do they change?

The reversal of fortune happens at the beginning of the Exodos, when Clytaemnestra's murderous acts are revealed and the Chorus sees everything. Peripeteia is typically the moment in which the main character in a tragedy sees fortune change, usually from good to bad, to arrive at the fated destiny. Clytaemnestra's fortunes change from abandoned wife to co-ruler of Argos with her partner Aegisthus. Aegisthus changes from an exile to a king. The Chorus changes from respected community elders and servants of the king to enemies of the enslaving ruling powers. Agamemnon's and Cassandra's fortunes change from living to dead. The city of Argos changes from a conquering city in war to a doomed city with the possibility of civil war on the horizon. Orestes changes from an exile to a son with motivation to return and avenge a murder.

Why does Aegisthus say, "I understand how exiles feed on hope," in Agamemnon, Exodos?

Aegisthus was an exile from his native land since he was a child. He did "feed on hope" throughout his entire life, waiting for the moment he could avenge the cruelty done to his father, Thyestes. He knows how Orestes feels, even though the two are natural enemies since Aegisthus was a foe of Agamemnon. Aegisthus feels invincible, and he thinks Orestes's hope is in vain. But he knows from experience the desire for justice will fuel Orestes anyway. Though Aegisthus thinks he has won he can still see the net of fate on the horizon: the inevitable hope of Orestes's return.

How does Cassandra's physical and emotional response to the events she sees contrast with the Chorus's analysis of events in Agamemnon, Episode 4?

Perception is an important part of the play, since perception of events reflects the characters' moral compasses. Although the Chorus expresses deep emotion, it is analytical, speaking in abstractions and metaphors. Its members are deeply loyal and devoted to an abstract ideal of goodness. The members also rely on logic and seeing events with their own eyes (this is why they distrusted the signal fires, and didn't immediately trust Agamemnon's cries as evidence of his death). The offstage violence means neither the Chorus nor the audience knows what is really happening, heightening the drama of the Exodos. While the Chorus regrets having to deliver bad news, Cassandra is unafraid to say dreadful things. The empathetic Chorus leader's "heart breaks" to hear her sorrows. Cassandra is viscerally torn apart by her visions and can see with great confidence into the future. Cassandra is emotional and slightly irrational, approaching her death with a resignation that perplexes the Chorus. She is not a free agent as the Chorus members are. Rather she is trapped in the conventions of her role as a prophet until she willingly renounces it.

Why does Clytaemnestra believe the bloodshed is over at the end of Agamemnon, Exodos? According to Aeschylus, speaking through the Chorus, in what ways is she correct or incorrect?

Clytaemnestra is motivated partly by selfishness. She has no other vengeance to exact. She is concerned about the fates of her remaining children and her city. And she herself does not want to die. In fact she is prepared to "swear an oath to the demon of the House of Atreus" (a serious commitment) if the demon will leave them alone. In her eyes the House of Atreus has suffered enough pain. Clytaemnestra wants to be left alone with Aegisthus to rule in peace. Aeschylus, who speaks the myth of Atreus through the Chorus, thinks the bloodshed is not over. As long as Zeus is in power, the curse will never leave. It is a "self-perpetuating curse," one in which Clytaemnestra has willingly participated. She cannot avoid the consequences, as the Chorus makes clear when resisting Aegisthus's rule.

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